Each week of the 2012-13 campaign up to this point has seen at least one Chelsea loanee find the back of the net, giving us a guaranteed headline act to focus upon in the weekly Loan Report.
For the first time this season though, there was no goalscoring action to speak of, although it was hardly for the lack of trying. Therefore this week acted more as an affirmation of where many of the young players are in their development and how much of an impact they’re making in what has been a highly positive couple of months.
Perhaps the most visible presence is Romelu Lukaku, who this weekend continued to be an effective super-sub for Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion side. In a tough matchup against Manchester City he came on for the final ten minutes but managed to create sufficient havoc to go close to scoring no fewer than four times.
He came within inches of connecting with a dangerous ball across the face of goal before planting a header straight at Joe Hart moments later. A spectacular overhead kick drew Hart into an even better save, before he was finally prevented from breaking through by a goal line clearance.
The big Belgian has only started one Premier League match so far – and scored the winner against Reading – but he has undeniably been extremely effective in how he’s been used by Clarke. By throwing him into the game at a point where opposing defences are beginning to tire, it allows him to have a more regular bearing on proceedings, which will in turn serve to boost his confidence. If he continues to work hard and develop into a more rounded threat, more playing time will certainly come his way as the Premier League fixture list becomes more congested during the winter months.
There’s been plenty to enjoy in The Championship too so far this year, with Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah amongst the brightest lights in the division. McEachran has been a mainstay in a Middlesbrough team which is well-placed just three points off the top of the early-season table, whilst Chalobah is not just holding his own in a Watford team full of big-name loanees from Udinese, but is arguably their best player at this point.
Josh played 73 minutes in Boro’s 1-0 win at Brighton on Saturday before departing with a knock which fortunately doesn’t appear to be too serious. Tony Mowbray has typically used the left-footed schemer on the right of a midfield which alternates between being a flat four and a diamond, but whilst it’s a slightly unfamiliar role for him, he’s generally done a good job. He has the license to move into central areas when on the attack, and has shown good discipline and awareness in his defensive capacities.
Chalobah, meanwhile, has been used predominantly in midfield by Gianfranco Zola, with more attacking duties than he often had at Chelsea, whilst he’s also dropped into a three-man defence here and there. Against Peterborough on Saturday afternoon it was certainly more of the former as he made a consistent impact in the Posh penalty area, and came within inches of scoring a first professional goal.
A fantastic curling effort from the edge of the box was superbly beaten away by goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, but when the 17 year-old was able to beat the former Torquay stopper with another shot shortly afterwards, the goalpost came to the rescue. Nathaniel also showed great poise and vision to deliver probing passes from deep, one of which released Fernando Forestieri for a chance which was cleared off the line.
Chalobah has earned the full trust of Zola over the first month or so of his loan and it would be hugely surprising if the deal which is set to run until the first week of January is not extended right through until May.
Unfortunately, Sam Hutchinson’s exciting progress at Nottingham Forest has been rather predictably curtailed by injury, and he suffered a setback during the international break which threatens to keep him sidelined for a while longer. Forest manager Sean O’Driscoll revealed that an injection to Sam’s troubled knee intended to aid his recovery has had the reverse effect and exacerbated the existing problem, and there is no timetable for his return other than to say that he is still “some way off playing.”
Ben Gordon suffered an injury during a Birmingham City Under-21 match in midweek and is set for a spell on the sidelines. He wasn’t playing for the club’s first team anyway, so abbreviating his proposed stay in the midlands would seem to be a sensible course of action.
Sam Walker remains at Bristol Rovers, serving as backup to Fulham’s Neil Etheridge. Quite why he’s still there is anyone’s guess.
There have also been more than a few positives in the Dutch Eredivisie, where five young Blues are plying their trade, including three at upwardly mobile Vitesse Arnhem. Chelsea’s relationship with the Gelderland side began a few seasons ago due to the friendship between Roman Abramovich and Vitesse owner Merab Jordania, and each season of the relationship has seen the club become more of a force in Dutch football.
Last season they qualified for the Europa League, and after nine rounds of the current campaign they sit joint second with PSV, just a point off Steve McClaren’s FC Twente. A comfortable 3-0 win away to NAC Breda on Saturday kept them rolling, with two of their most effective players being Chelsea-owned.
Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt have been mainstays in their back four all season, lining up at opposing full-back positions and being strong in both attacking and defensive areas. For Kalas, it’s a departure from last season when he proved himself to be one of the best central defenders in the league, but perhaps under direction from his parent club, he’s been utilised more and more at right-back by Fred Rutten, where he’s been able to use his considerable athleticism to increased effect.
Van Aanholt, meanwhile, has taken great strides since earning regular first-team football and looks a far more assured and capable player than at any point in his career to date. In all previous loan moves he was in and out of teams, including his four months at Vitesse last season, but he’s been a near ever-present this season and is growing into a responsible and useful left-back.
He had a hand in one of their three goals at NAC, driving through the middle and seeing his shot saved before Wilfried Bony turned the ball home at the second attempt.
Gael Kakuta was suspended from the matchday squad by Rutten after turning up late to training for the third time, but will be back in contention this week and has generally impressed his new manager with his abilities. He faces a big two months before the January transfer window, where Anderlecht are reportedly keen on his services.
Amin Affane came off the bench for Roda to play the last half an hour against Twente and once again made an impact, providing an assist for Guus Hupperts’ late equaliser. He picked up the ball on the left and crossed dangerously for the forward to slide in at the far post.
Kenneth Omeruo, who celebrated a birthday in the week, played the full ninety minutes at right-back for ADO Den Haag as usual in a 2-1 defeat to Utrecht. His lack of experience in professional football and the fact he remains rather raw suggests that he’ll be playing on loan for a while yet, but he’s going about things really quite well and impresses more often than not.
In Germany, Kevin De Bruyne’s excellent recent personal form was extended in the form of an assist for Werder Bremen in a comfortable 4-0 home win over Borussia Moenchengladbach. It was the Belgian’s deep, whipped in corner which landed perfectly on the head of Nils Petersen for the game’s opening goal.
There are no concerns about his playing time at Bremen either, having established himself as one of their best players already, and even any recent reports of him being unhappy in Germany appeared to be wide of the mark. He’s in good hands there.
Jeffrey Bruma was an unused substitute for Hamburg, who lost at home to Stuttgart to bring an end to their impressive recent run of results. Thorsten Fink’s team looks settled in all areas Bruma plays in, particularly in the centre of defence, so the Dutchman may need to bide his time before he gets to play considerable football again.
In Spain, Thibaut Courtois has been playing much better of late and after two consecutive clean sheets for Belgium during the international schedule he recorded another shutout on Sunday evening for Atlético Madrid. His efforts did not go unrewarded either, as a late Falcao goal took all three points back to the capital from San Sebastian.
Ulises Dávila played half an hour in his increasingly familiar role as a substitute for Sabadell, who lost 1-0 away to Las Palmas. After a tidy start to the season the Mexican has struggled to make things happen lately, and needs an uplift in his game to kick-start things.
Jhon Pírez remains sidelined for Leganés and is yet to play for the club. It remains the story of his career to date.
In Belgium, Thorgan Hazard and Zulte-Waregem came crashing back to earth after a stunning start to the season with a 0-3 reverse at home to Lokeren. They began the weekend in second place but are still well placed in fifth after the defeat, and look a team capable of finishing in that region too. Thorgan has settled well and looks to be a regular attacking threat from his central playmaking position.
Finally, it was Cup weekend in Portugal, which meant a first competitive start in Vitória Guimaraes colours for Matej Delac, who regular readers will know only ever seems to play in Cup matches these days. He conceded a solitary goal in a routine 6-1 victory for which Milan Lalkovic was rested, and will probably return to the bench until the next round.